Chef’s Special: John Courtney of Chop Shop and The Fish Market

PARK CITY, Utah — A few months ago, excited rumors were flitting around about a new fish market in town. Restaurant chefs, home chefs, private chefs, and just plain eaters were glad to hear that The Fish Market was being opened by Chef John Courtney of the Chop Shop.

Four-ish years ago, Courtney and his wife, Paige, moved to Park City when Hilton headhunted Paige. Courtney ended up in Park City by way of San Francisco, Carmel, France, back to California, and Las Vegas.

“My wife is my business partner. She’s been in the food beverage world longer than I have,” said Courtney. “She’s worked with the Michael Mina Group and Charlie Palmer. She was a food beverage director for Waldorf Astoria. She has a great background in bar programs. She’s a sommelier, Cicerone… it’s a good balance for the both of us.”

Courtney was a banker for over a decade before switching lanes and apprenticing under French chef Jean Paul Peluffo.

Courtney has his own impressive resume working with Rick Moonen (see on the Fish Market’s menu the “Moonen cocktail sauce”), Mario Batali, the Georgis family, Daniel Boulud…you get the idea. He’s opened restaurants of almost all types of cuisine, from Southern American to sushi handrolls and Mexican to classic French cooking.

Once, he helped make seven million macaroons for a cruise line.

“I’ve noticed up here [guests want] salmon, halibut, and swordfish. We also bring in varieties like grouper and snapper and live seafood on the weekends for people that want to do lobsters and crabs.”
Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Courtney spent some time growing up in Tahoe and knew the mountains would be a good fit and a change of pace from the Las Vegas restaurant scene. Once the Courtneys settled in, they found it difficult to source some items and made many trips from the Kamas Valley to Salt Lake City.

The many journeys to Salt Lake were the impetus for Chop Shop, providing locals and businesses with high-quality meats, cheeses, local, pre-made foods, and hard-to-find products. (In my humble opinion that no one has asked for, Chop Shop’s frozen croissants are the best in town. Now, that’s enough editorializing for today.)

“We try to find the highest quality of everything we can. That way, we source a good ingredient for everybody to use in their home. It makes it a little bit easier to accomplish that meal when you have good quality product to start with.”

Chop Shop works with local brands like Heber Honey, Ballerina Farms, and Creekstone Farms.

“I know where my cows are on this earth,” he said. “[Creekstone Farms] consulted Temple Grandin to come in and build out their harvest facility. She crawled around on the earth before they even broke ground. You visit the harvest facility, and these animals are so happy.”

For The Fish Market, he takes freshness and quality just as seriously. Courtney sources fish from 11 docks worldwide that get flown in on next day air.

A popular dine-in option is the Churashi Bowl, with chef’s choice of fresh fish, hot rice, seaweed salad, edamame, masago, and yuzu mayo.

“Fish Market [came to be] from my past work, an affinity for fish and not finding much up here, and Chop Shop guests constantly asking,” he said. “I’m fortunate that many of these purveyors are ones I’ve used in the past. I don’t have to wait for a traditional purveyor that is a Tuesday or Thursday delivery. We get fish daily.”

Like Chop Shop, there is raw fish to take home and cook, dine-in options, pantry items, and to-go foods. The pantry comprises hard-to-find and authentic Asian items like taberu ryu, somi soup base, maguro, dried seaweed, sweet chili sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, peanut oil, sushi rice, etc.

Talking to Courtney is like listening to a fascinating food education podcast. His desire to educate guests and customers is a driving force behind his business, and he is extremely knowledgeable.

He threw out tips like when shopping for fish, pay attention to the gills (bright red=super fresh), cloudy eyes are suspect, and true wild-caught fish have big fins, whereas pen-raised didn’t need to develop powerful fins to evade predators. And all fish is sushi grade; it just depends on how the fish is handled and processed.

“When people ask me, ‘is your piece of beef grass fed?’ Beef is always grass-fed. I wish there was a time to educate a little bit better. The question that people probably want to ask is, ‘how is your animal finished? Is it finished on grass? Or is it finished on grain?’ Because the last three months of life are what change things. There’s a lot of things like that that I hope we can continue to help the community and show them how the products can work for you health-wise, as well as consumption of good quality meats and fish.”

Courtney is the guy to consult if you’re new to the cooking game or want to learn more about cuts of meat, different types of fish, or even the best method to cook your holiday prime rib. The Fish Market is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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